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Abstract

Reworked and fluidized fine-grained deposits in energetic settings are a major modern-day feature of river deltas and estuaries. Similar environments were probably settings for microbial evolution on the early Earth. These sedimentary systems act as efficient biogeochemical reactors with high bacterial phylogenetic diversity and functional redundancy. They are temporally rather than spatially structured, with repeated cycling of redox conditions and successive stages of microbial metabolic processes. Intense reworking of the fluidized bed entrains bacteria from varied habitats providing new, diverse genetic materials to contribute to horizontal gene transfer events and the creation of new bacterial ecotypes. These vast mud environments may act as exporters and promoters of biosphere diversity and novel adaptations, potentially on a globally important scale.